The general goal of our research is to better understand how individual neurons and interconnected populations of neurons encode information in the central nervous system, particularly as it relates to learning and memory processes. More specifically, we are interested in the cellular and molecular properties of individual neurons in neural regions involved in long-term memory (hippocampus) and working memory (prefrontal cortex). Because memory function depends on the spatial and temporal firing patterns of interconnected populations of neurons, we examine factors that determine whether an individual neuron in a “memory circuit” fires an action potential. These factors include the state-dependent biophysical and cellular properties of the neurons, the spatial and temporal pattern of synaptic activation, the ability of neuronal dendrites to integrate convergent synaptic input, and the ability of synapses to change their synaptic strength such that occurs with LTP and LTD.
We also study the role of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in memory-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and aging.
Another line of our research examines inhibitory synaptic transmission between connected pairs of medium spiny neurons in the neostriatum. In this project we are investigating the hypothesis that dopaminergic regulation of GABAergic inhibition regulates the balance of activity between the two output pathways of the neostriatum.
We use a variety of techniques to examine these issues, including: electrophysiological recordings, high-speed and high-resolution fluorescence imaging, molecular biology, immunohistochemistry, and compartmental modeling.